World health leader to speak at Commencement.

By Keely Savoie 

Global champion for human rights Joia Mukherjee, the chief medical officer for Partners In Health (PIH), will deliver the keynote speech for Mount Holyoke College’s 179th Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 15, at 10:30 am, in the Gettell Amphitheater. 

In her role with PIH, Mukherjee is dedicated to providing access to health care to the poorest, most vulnerable communities in the world. In addition to her public health advocacy through PIH, Mukherjee also consults for the World Health Organization on the treatment of HIV and MDR-TB in developing countries. 

As a social justice advocate, she argues that everyone must work to manifest positive change. 

“To bring about social change requires a movement—people from many different disciplines who can work together toward a goal of greater justice,” she said. “My discipline is global health, but it could equally be education, legal systems, or infrastructure.” 

Mukherjee’s scholarly work focuses on the human rights aspect of HIV treatment and on health interventions in poor and vulnerable settings. In addition to her work with PIH, she is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Global Health Equity, Department of Medicine, at Brigham and Women's Hospital and is an associate professor of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School. 

“I am deeply honored to receive an honorary degree from Mount Holyoke and to deliver the Commencement address to the class of 2016,” said Mukherjee. “This is a wonderful chance to impart and share my values to the graduating class as they embark on their life. I take the value of social justice and siding with the most vulnerable quite seriously—these are values we have at Partners In Health and ones that are broadly respected at Mount Holyoke. 

“I believe that at a place like Mount Holyoke there will be many graduates who want to change the world and support—from many avenues—a movement for social justice,” she continued. “We all need to work together.” 

Mukherjee trained in infectious disease, internal medicine, and pediatrics at the Massachusetts General Hospital and has a master’s degree in public health from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. In 1992, Mukherjee graduated from medical school at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. She completed her undergraduate degree in 1985 in chemistry, cellular and molecular biology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. 

Mukherjee has been recognized widely for her work in the fields of academia, global health care, and community service. In 2006, she was honored by Heifer International as a Hero of Humanity for her outstanding service. She holds honorary degrees from the University of Rhode Island and Ripon College. She received the Marshall Wolf Award in Medical Education from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Division of Global Health Equity, and the Drapkin Award for Humanism in Medicine from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. 

Honorary degrees 

Also at Commencement, the College will confer honorary degrees on two accomplished individuals who exemplify the values of Mount Holyoke. 

World-renowned artist Joan Jonas ’58, whose work encompasses a wide range of mediums including video, performance, sound, text, and sculpture, will receive an honorary doctorate of fine arts. After graduating from Mount Holyoke with a bachelor of arts degree in art history, Jonas received her master of fine arts degree in sculpture from Columbia University in 1965. 

Jonas went on to become a central figure in the performance art movement of the mid-1960s and was a pioneer in the use of video in performance art pieces in the 1970s. Her experiments and productions in the late 1960s and early 1970s were crucial to the development of many contemporary art genres, from performance and video to conceptual art and theater. Jonas has exhibited, screened, and performed her work at museums, galleries, and large-scale group exhibitions throughout the world. 

US Representative Richard E. Neal will be awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters. Neal serves First Congressional District of Massachusetts, which includes South Hadley, and has been a member of the Commonwealth’s House of Representatives since 1989. He is a former mayor of Springfield and served on Mount Holyoke’s Board of Trustees. 

As a member of the influential Ways and Means Committee since 1993, Neal has advocated for a number of important economic issues including banking reform, trade policy, and simplification of the tax code. He is a strong supporter of Social Security and of making the child tax credit permanent. In addition, he is a proponent of health care reform, helping to write the House health care reform bill: the Affordable Health Care for America Act. Neal also works to strengthen relations between the United States and Ireland and was instrumental in ensuring continuing US involvement in the Northern Ireland peace process.  

Before entering politics, Neal taught history at a local high school and continues his strong interest in teaching and education by lecturing at a number of regional colleges and universities. He received a bachelor of arts degree in political science from American International College in Springfield and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Hartford’s Barney School of Business and Public Administration.

See the full Commencement schedule.